How healthy is Western Australia?


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How healthy is Western Australia?

Western Australians enjoy one of the best standards of health and living in the world. Life expectancy is increasing and is consistent with that of most modern developed countries, while death rates from infectious diseases and heart disease are decliningi.

This is partly attributed to improved health care services, less people engaging in risky behaviours, such as smoking, and more people maintaining adequate levels of exercise.

However, data from the latest Australian Health Survey (AHS) reveals the health of Western Australians has not improved at the same rate as other Australian statesii.A staggering 66% of the state is overweight and obese, making Western Australia the state with the second highest proportion of overweight people in the country after South Australiaiii.

Health snapshot

While Western Australia's population only makes up 11% of the nations', it is also the fastest growing state in Australiaiv. In 2011, the state's population was 2.35 million people, increasing 24% (0.45 million people) since 2001iv.

In 2010, life expectancy for Western Australians was among the highest in the worldv, being 79.7 years for males and 84.3 years for females. This is an increase of 2.4 and 1.5 years, respectively, since 2001vi. Data from the AHS also reveals that Western Australians are exercising more than 10 years ago and are relatively more active compared to the rest of the nationiii. Yet this positive trend has not offset rising rates of obesity. In the 20 year period, between 1985 and 2003, the rate of obesity in children aged 7-15 years has more than doubledvii.

Heart disease and lung cancer remain leading causes of potentially avoidable deathsviii. In 2006, 64% of deaths in persons aged less than 75 years had the potential to be avoided and almost half (45%) of all potentially preventable hospitalisations were due to chronic conditionsviii.

More and more Western Australians are exercising at adequate levels. Yet rates of overweight and obesity continue to rise.

Risky behaviour

Western Australians drink at risky levels, are not consuming adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables, and are spending too much time under the sun. In 2011-2012, over a quarter of the population (25.4%) were drinking alcohol at levels that put them at risk of developing long-term health problems, making it the state with the highest proportion of risky drinkersii.

Between 1997 and 2006, alcohol-related diseases were the ninth leading cause of avoidable deaths in Western Australiaix. This was followed by skin cancer, which on average accounted for over 60 deaths per year in the same period of timeix. After Queensland, Western Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in Australiax.

Unhealthy diets - a contributory factor to obesity - are also putting the health of Western Australians at stake. Only 6% of the population eat adequate levels of fruit and vegetable, yet more than half do not exercise at recommended levelsiii.

And although the proportion of smokers in Western Australia is falling and is comparably lower than other states, the rate of decline has slowed down by about two thirds since 2005iii. In 2011-2012, diseases of the respiratory system, including lung cancer, were the second most prevalent form of chronic illness in Western Australiaiii.

Western Australia ranks first as the state with the highest proportion of risky drinkers.

Health system challenges

In addition to chronic health conditions that arise from unhealthy lifestyle choices, Western Australia's health care system faces pressures of an ageing and expanding populationviii. If not addressed, these factors will contribute to rising rates of hospitalisation and increased numbers of avoidable deaths.

Currently, the most overweight sector in the state is the 55-64 years age group - 75% are either overweight or obeseiii. Promoting healthier lifestyle and behavioural choices earlier in life is an increasingly important challenge for Western Australia.

Figures are already showing that the growing elderly population in Western Australia is causing a greater prevalence of chronic diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and dementiaxi. And this will continue to put strains on the health system in coming yearsxii.


iDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.ii

iiPHAIWA, Australian Health Survey 2012 How well is Western Australia doing?, Curtin University, http://www.phaiwa.org.au/component/attachments/download/132, p.2

iiiAustralian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Australian Health Survey 2011-2012, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4364.0.55.0012011-12?OpenDocument

ivAustralian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2011, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/3218.0~2011~Main+Features~Western+Australia

vDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf

viAustralian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, State and Territory Statistical Indicators, 2012, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by+Subject/1367.0~2012~Main+Features~Life+Expectancy+at+Birth~6.16

viiHealthway, Healthway's position on Obesity and Overweight - Obesity Position Paper, http://www.healthway.wa.gov.au/docs/positionstatements/Overweight%20and%20Obesity.pdf, p.1

viiiDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.viii

ixDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.15

xDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.41

xiDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.10

xiiDepartment of Health WA, 2010, The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s Report 2010, http://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/WA_chief_health_officers_report_2010.pdf, p.50